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Pure Confidence

Theaters, Actors, Etc.

By Rick Pender · January 24th, 2007 · Curtain Call
  Carlyle Brown, who wrote Pure Confidence, now on stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse, is playwright-in- residence at Miami University.
Carlyle Brown, who wrote Pure Confidence, now on stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse, is playwright-in- residence at Miami University.

Every once in a while I ask the question, "Where do plays come from?" I'd like to describe the path of PURE CONFIDENCE, presently onstage at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (See review on page 47.) Its first full-fledged production was at Actors Theatre in Louisville during the 2005 Humana Festival of New American Plays. Among several darker pieces, this play about a bold African-American jockey who found ways around slavery was a breath of fresh air and an audience pleaser. Carlyle Brown's script was commissioned as a co-production with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, where it was presented in February 2006. I saw both versions and admired the work of Gavin Leonard as Simon Cato and Kelly Taffe as Caroline, his strong but soft-spoken wife. They're together again here in Cincinnati. Those first productions were staged by Clinton Turner Davis. The Playhouse hired Kent Gash, associate artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theater, to give the work a new staging. The Louisville production was more lyrical and romantic, with a realistic set evoking horse farms; in Alabama, Pure Confidence was presented in the round in a small theater, with minimal furnishings and scenery, although the circular floor was distinctly reminiscent of the oval of a racetrack.

Here in Cincinnati, scenic designer Emily Beck uses a similar concept for the stage floor, while the backdrop is a painted scene impressionistically suggesting the farms and bucolic settings where horses are raised. Gash's staging overall is less fluid than the others I saw, emphasizing specific moments with freezes and sharp spotlighting (Liz Lee is the lighting designer); his approach gives the play a more dramatically compelling presence. Each production worked well, each emphasizes different elements of the characters and their relationships. That's the beauty of live theater. Pure Confidence continues through Feb. 16. It will have another production at the Denver Center Theatre in March and April. (DCT's new artistic director, Kent Thompson, moved there a year ago from Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where he no doubt had an early hand in developing the play.) ...

CARLYLE BROWN, who wrote Pure Confidence, is currently playwright-in-residence at Miami University in Oxford. He has been commissioned by the university to develop a play chronicling the events of "Freedom Summer" from 1964, when civil rights activists trained in Oxford for protest activities in the South; several of them were subsequently murdered in Mississippi. Brown's new play is expected to be part of the MU theater department's season during 2007-08. He is working with students during his stay; no public appearances have been announced. ...

Denver Center presents a "new play summit" on Feb. 9-10; among the works getting readings is a piece by Cincinnati native THERESA REBECK, Our House. Rebeck's The Scene, which premiered at the 2006 Humana Festival, has earned positive reviews in New York City this winter. Her one-woman show, Bad Dates, has been one of the most frequently produced shows at American theaters over the past two years. The Ursuline Academy grad's show was staged at the Cincinnati Playhouse in January 2005. ...

Actress SUNSHINE CAPPELLETTI is a CCM drama grad who appeared on local stages for several seasons, including Ovation Theatre Company's 2004 production of Fallen Angels for which she earned a Cincinnati Entertainment Award nomination. Cappelletti, who interned last season at the Cincinnati Playhouse, is earning positive reviews this month in the title role of a Washington, D.C., production of Gregory Murphy's The Countess. She is playing Effie, the wife of 19th-century artist John Ruskin who left her priggish intellectual husband for John Millais, a younger pre-Raphaelite painter. One reviewer calls her "picture perfect" for the role, noting "it's as if Cappelletti stepped out of a John Millais painting." (Some of Millais' paintings, including one with Effie and Ruskin, were recently on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum.) Ensemble Theatre staged The Countess for Cincinnati audiences back in 2000.



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